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Why a city's powers to demolish derelict buildings is limited

An abandoned couch sits outside the 35 Street property in Vernon.
September 27, 2019 - 6:00 AM

VERNON - Walking along the leafy sidewalk of a street in downtown Vernon, three properties stick-out - and for all the wrong reasons.

Large trees in the yards go some way to hiding boarded-up windows and doors of the dilapidated 1950s era homes.

While one of the properties on the 3500 block of 35 Street was boarded up after being gutted by fire several years ago, its equally dishevelled looking neighbour was amazingly being lived in until last month.

In August the RCMP raided the property, finding almost a dozen people hanging out in the property, along with heroin, crystal methamphetamine and a wealth of stolen goods.

Residents of the nearby seniors' building, McCulloch Court, in a letter sent to council, listed an array of anti-social issues stemming from the house, which they say would be visited by as many as 75 people a day.

Following the raid, City of Vernon building inspectors deemed the building unfit for habitation and it was boarded up.

Another property two doors away also sits boarded up, and according to city officials has had its power disconnected and is unfit for habitation.

The property on the left was raided by police in August and then deemed unfit for habitation.
The property on the left was raided by police in August and then deemed unfit for habitation.

While owning real estate is something people often like to boast about, the owner of these properties isn't so keen on sharing the details of his property portfolio.

When reached by phone, Dave Nahal denied owning the three rundown properties and said he didn't know who the owner was. He did confirm he owned the building next door at 2813A 35 Street and was letting it to the owners of the soon to open Vernon Cannabis Store.

However, according to B.C. Assessment, the three 35 Street properties are owned by Karmjit Nahal, the wife of Sukhdev Nahal, who is more commonly known as Dave Nahal.

When reached again, Dave Nahal said he had plans to develop the site in the future but didn't have a timeline or concrete plans.

When asked why he'd let the properties get so run down he refused to comment, adding "you are nobody to tell me what to do with those properties."

From the road, trees hide the dilapidated state of the three properties.
From the road, trees hide the dilapidated state of the three properties.

While the three properties might look awful, doing something about them is easier said than done.

Vernon's former Legion building has become notorious as a problem spot in the city with bylaw officers receiving close to 150 complaints about the building last year.

Council has approved a non-medical cannabis store to open in the Legion, having placed conditions on its new owners whereby a business licence will only be granted when a large part of the building is demolished.

Vernon city councillor Dalvir Nahal said during a recent council meeting that fines should be brought in for landlords who let their properties go to "shitsville."

"People don't feel safe around these properties... I think we're just being too lenient of this," she later told iNFOnews.ca.

The councillor suggested fines of $10,000 to $15,000 to "hit them hard."

While council may be able to impose stipulations on business premises when it comes to residential properties it seems there is less of a carrot to dangle in front of the owners.

"Ideally we'd like (the owner) to demolish it and rebuild or develop," City of Vernon Protective Services manager Geoff Gaucher said about the three 35 Street properties. "Technically though, if they kept the yard clean and the house boarded up tight, it could stay like that for years."

Gaucher said bylaw officers have the power to inspect properties as long as they give the occupants reasonable notice.

If a property is deemed not fit for habitation it's generally because it doesn't conform to fire safety bylaws and violates the building code. If the electricity supply is found to be unsafe, power will be shut off and only turned back on once the owner has fixed it.

If the occupants of a house refuse to allow bylaw officers inside then a warrant is needed from the courts. If a house is declared a nuisance property council would need to pass a motion forcing the owner to demolish it. If the owner doesn't comply, the City could demolish the property and attach the bill to the property taxes. If the taxes aren't paid the property can be sold, but the owner can challenge this.

Either way, it can easily become a very long drawn out process, Gaucher said.

"If the windows are boarded and secure, you trim the trees and you keep the grass clean and you collect all the garbage, as long as it's not an attractant to the street entrenched, as long as it's not bringing in a ton of undesirables to live on the property... it's going to be OK," Gaucher said. "Is it ideal? Absolutely not, but it's probably going to meet the standards of our bylaw."

Statistics also seem to show that once a property is boarded up and secured it isn't such a problem. The three 35 Street houses have only warranted a handful of complaints to bylaw over the years and are almost always about snow and ice or wet leaves on the sidewalk.

However, the lack of complaints about the boarded-up houses doesn't mean they have no effect on the streetscape.

"It sets the tone for the whole neighbourhood, the better the appearance and the better the tone, the better the value," former realtor Marvin Friesen said.

Before recently retiring, Friesen ran his real estate business from the property next door to the recently raided drug house on 35 Street.

"It's been pretty disruptive, housing being boarded up and then occupied by a group of vagrants," he said.

Friesen is in the process of getting the building ready for new tenants and isn't concerned about the boarded-up houses next door. With the houses now empty, issues of garbage and "traffic of a dubious nature" aren't an issue anymore.

"Obviously the condition of those homes hasn't helped, but they certainly never hindered our ability to do business there," he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2019

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